Italian Cinema

Peter Bondanella

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Italian Cinema


Italian national cinema developed quickly between the last decade of the 19th century and the outbreak of World War I (particularly in Turin and also in Rome), and it won a sizeable share of film audiences around the world for, in particular, its epic films set in classical settings. The outbreak of the war virtually destroyed the industry, but with the coming of sound and the advent of the Fascist government, support for the industry grew before World War II broke out, with the building of the film studio complex at Cinecittà (“Cinema City”), the establishment of Luce (the government agency charged with producing documentaries and newsreels), and the opening of an important national film school in Rome, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Unlike its counterparts in totalitarian Russia or Germany, the Italian industry was not completely dominated by government propaganda, and in fact some of the major Fascist figures in the industry wanted to imitate the entertainment of Hollywood rather than support a completely ideological cinema. Major directors emerged during this period, such as Mario Camerini, Alessandro Blasetti, and Vittorio De Sica (all of whom continued to work after the end of the war), and the cinema during the Fascist period trained a great many people involved in basic film production who were to play a vital role in the dramatic rebirth of Italian cinema after 1945. With the end of the war, Italian neorealism burst on the international scene. Such figures as Roberto Rossellini, De Sica, Luchino Visconti, and Giuseppe De Santis won international acclaim for their “realistic” portrayal of contemporary Italian social and economic problems. During the 1950s, many young directors (Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, and Pietro Germi among them) sought to move beyond the kind of programmatic social realism Marxist critics in Italy and France championed, and in the 1960s a second generation of even younger figures (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marco Bellocchio, Bernardo Bertolucci, Gillo Pontecorvo, and Francesco Rosi) looked both backward to their Italian neorealist heritage and abroad to French cinema for inspiration. During the same time, but less beloved by film scholars and critics, Italian cinema began to produce an enormous number of highly profitable works that might be described as genre films or, to use the Hollywood term, B films. First, in the late 1950s and the 1960s, the peplum or “sword and sandal” epic film starring foreign bodybuilders became immensely popular and was quickly exported. This genre was followed closely by the spaghetti western, an incredibly successful genre that produced almost five hundred films in a very short time and revolutionized the face of a classic Hollywood genre almost overnight. Subsequently, in the 1970s and 1980s, the thriller (known as a giallo in Italy) and the spaghetti horror film (with its zombie and cannibal variants) were also extremely popular. Perhaps the most popular genre of all, one that continued to thrive during the entire postwar period, was the so-called commedia all’italiana or “comedy, Italian style,” a form of comic film indebted not only to the traditional commedia dell’arte but also to a collection of brilliant actors and scriptwriter-directors who combined humor with a biting and often cynical vision of Italian culture, providing a type of social criticism that Italy’s politicians often avoided. The period between 1945 and around 1975 thus witnessed an Italian cinema that managed to combine popular entertainment in a variety of film genres with art films, box office power with critical acclaim at film festivals and among auteur-oriented critics and film historians. Nevertheless, directors and technicians of genius continued to work, and in the last decade some new faces have added luster and box office appeal to the national cinema’s treatment of new themes (racial and gender identity in a multiethnic and multicultural Italy, terrorism, crime, and the Mafia), themes that have evolved in Italian cinema’s reflection of everyday reality in the peninsula. Italian film scholarship has evolved dramatically in the recent past, moving from a focus on postwar neorealism and the art film toward a broader definition of film history that encompasses an interest in multicultural themes, more film theory imported from abroad (especially from the United Kingdom and the United States), and more interest in two periods (the silent era and the Fascist period) that have long been neglected in comparison with postwar Italy.

Article.  10097 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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